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Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Who Slays the Wicked (Sebastian St. Cyr) by C.S. Harris

C.S. Harris' Sebastian St. Cyr makes another appearance in Who Slays the Wicked.  I've been following this series forever, and in addition to the mysteries, I usually learn something about the time period as well.

When Lord Ashworth is found viciously murdered, there is little sympathy to be found.  The handsome, debauched young man had earned a reputation for debased behavior, and the only one who appears to mourn his death is his father.

Sebastian, however, understands that what is generally known about the young man's behavior is only the tip of the iceberg.  Although he was never able to connect him to the crimes in a previous case, he has no doubt that Ashworth was involved.  

Evidence from the bloody crime scene suggests that the killer was a woman, and Sebastian fears that perhaps his niece, who is married to Ashworth, may be the culprit.  

But Stephanie is only one possibility.  Sebastian and Bowstreet magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy have a number of suspects; after all, Ashworth had plenty of enemies.  Then Ashworth's valet is found stabbed to death in an alley, a street crossing boy disappears, a young prostitute is murdered, and Ashworth's long-time friend murdered.  As despicable as Ashworth was, Sebastian needs to find his killer, if only to prevent an innocent person from being held to account.

Hero, Sebastian's wife, plays only a small role, but it is Hero who reveals most of the historic details from the period.  Hero is a social activist and is writing an article about the pure finders, rag and bone men, and night soil collectors. 

Rag and Bone Men -- These bone-grubbers, as they were sometimes known, would typically spend nine or ten hours searching the streets of London for anything of value, before returning to their lodgings to sort whatever they had found.[5] (source: Wikipedia)

Despite the clean-sounding name, this job actually involved collecting dog feces from the streets of London to sell to tanners, who used it in the leather-making process. Dog poop was known as "pure" because it was used to purify the leather and make it more flexible [PDF].  (source: Ten worst jobs in Victorian Era)

18th-century London nightman's calling card
Night soil is a historically used euphemism for human excreta collected from cesspools, privies, pail closetspit latrinesprivy middensseptic tanks, etc. This material was removed from the immediate area, usually at night, by workers employed in this trade. Sometimes it could be transported out of towns and sold on as a fertilizer. (source:  Wikipedia)

Hero's interviews with those who survive by performing these jobs gives a much more human touch than simply reading the factual accounts of what the jobs entailed.

Once again, I've enjoyed the characters and the plot of a Sebastian St. Cyr novel and gained a more personal view of Regency England.   

Read in December; blog review scheduled for March 13, 2019.

NetGalley/Berkley Publishing

Historical Mystery.  April 2, 2019.  Print length:  352 pages.  


  1. Oh, I'm jealous! I can't wait to read this one. I love Sebastian and Hero. :)

    1. :) I wish Hero played a bigger role more often, but I always enjoy catching up with the pair.

  2. Bookish serendipity! I JUST read a review of a non-fiction book called The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic - and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World (long title, I know) which is about cholera but also goes in to major detail about how Victorian London processed and used various kinds of waste (like Pure, etc.).

    I think I would prefer the fictional take, however! :D

    This also makes me think of Our Mutual Friend by Dickens which has a man who became rich from the collection of and resale of trash.

    1. I read Clare Clark's The Great Stink several years ago which is another fictional account of the cholera-laden sewer systems of Victorian London. I can't say I liked it much, but it was informative. The Ghost Map sounds like an interesting (but at the same time, unpleasant) look at the same problems.

  3. Sounds interesting. Do we need to read this series in order?

    1. It isn't necessary, but it does add to the pleasure of getting to know the characters, both major and minor. :)

  4. I thought of The Ghost Map, which I see Ruthiella mentions in her comment, as I read your review. I haven't yet read it, but it's on my TBR shelf. I would like to try Harris's series one of these days.

    1. We take our present sanitary conveniences for granted! I like that Hero, in Harris' Sebastian St. Cyr series, brings the cultural and social elements of the period to light.